Garth Snow’s Toughest Job Lies Ahead

It was recently announced that the Islanders have extended invitations to player agents informing them that certain players were invited to training camp on a try-out basis. The players that will be attending are yet to be revealed, but one can assume that this is part of Garth’s plan to either A) find a top-six forward to add to the roster, B) add depth to the bottom two lines, C) to force the young guys such as Petrov, Kabanov, Parenteau and Martin to really stand out, or D) to add some depth to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

At the very least, Snow may not add anyone at all. It’s a smart move by the General Manager because he is sitting with the deck in his hand and he can choose which cards he wants to deal. Some of you may remember that this is how the Islanders ended up with goaltender Mike Dunham, who is currently the team goaltending coach, and Richard Park, who is still currently a UFA but became a fan favorite on the Isles for a handful of years.

But finding that top-six forward, which may presently be Snow’s hardest task to complete, is not going to be his hardest of his career as GM. In fact, next season may be the one where he finds the most difficulty in getting everything he wants.

The Kovalchuk saga has displayed a new difficulty in signing players long-term. The NHL will be cracking down on these ridiculous deals to make sure teams abide by the current CBA in every way and form. If you don’t believe me, just look at how they are double checking contracts that were already approved in Roberto Luongo, Marc Savard and Marian Hossa. The league seems to be setting a new standard which is almost definitely going to have a major ripple effect when the current CBA expires in September of 2011.

GM Garth Snow, John Tavares and Head Coach Scott Gordon (Nassau News Live/Flickr)

But I digress. If Garth Snow was planning on locking up players such as Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo, both of whom are in the final year of their entry-level contracts, to extensive, long-term deals, he may find some obstacles. You can expect Garth to want to sign them for longer than two years or three years since they are two of the most vital members of the Islander’s core. The following year he will have to deal with locking up John Tavares as well.

But in regards to next season, Bailey and Okposo aren’t alone. Rob Schremp, Blake Comeau, Bruno Gervais,  Jack Hillen and Dylan Reese will be Restricted Free Agents looking for potential long-term deals. For those of you who are die-hard Islander fans, you are looking at the very nucleus of the team’s rebuild that started two seasons ago. Some may only be given qualifying offers of one year contracts. Others will be in the same boat as Josh and Kyle, looking to solidify their place in the New York Islanders organization for years to come.

But that’s not where it stops. Matt Moulson, Radek Martinek, Dwayne Roloson, Milan Jurcina, James Wisniewski, Jon Sim, Trevor Gillies and Zenon Konopka will be Unrestricted Free Agents as well. You can throw  Doug Weight on that list, assuming his contract, which is expected to be finalized soon, will be for only one year. Add that to the list of RFA’s and the only players that are under contract after the 2010-2011 season are John Tavares, Trent Hunter, Frans Nielsen, Mark Streit, Mark Eaton, Andrew MacDonald and Rick DiPietro. Just seven skaters.

Obviously Garth Snow will attack this aggressively, but this will be his first major obstacle. In his short career as General Manager, Snow hasn’t had the responsibility of locking up a player after giving them their first NHL contract. MacDonald and Nielsen were given their respective four year deals, and Rick DiPietro’s contract isn’t unknown to anyone. Qualifying offers, such as the ones that were provided to Schremp and Moulson, are only good for one season.

Calvin de Haan (NikeTraining/Flickr)

The bright side to this mountain high pile of paper work is that it gives the team an opportunity to sort out the bad eggs from the good ones and decide who should be part of the Islanders as they move forward. On defense, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan are anxiously waiting for their chance to jump to the NHL. Kirill Petrov is doing everything he can to leave Russia and join the organization now, even if he has to start in Bridgeport. Their is a lot of hype around Kirill Kabanov, who is doing everything he can to prove that he is a “good boy,” as he loved to refer to himself, and play in the NHL. Jesse Joenssu and Matt Martin have been spending time in Bridgeport and are close to earning full-time roles with the big club. Snow doesn’t need to feel obligated to keep anyone that he feels hasn’t progressed over the years. And believe me, he won’t. Just look at Jeff Tambellini and Sean Bergenheim.

Although Garth has yet to find that top-six forward to help this team take the next step in making the playoffs, his toughest job lies ahead. The 2010-2011 season will be the make or break year for some players and will ultimately decide whether or not the rebuild was a success.

-Rob McGowan

Follow me on Twitter!